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The Rot In The Academy

You’ve got to read this dynamite John Leo interview with Jonathan Haidt [1], who is emerging as one of the country’s leading public intellectuals, and a traitor to his liberal secular academic class because of his fidelity to the ideals of the university. Excerpts:

JONATHAN HAIDT: But that’s fine. As long as you have an alternate model, then other universities can copy it. But more importantly is this – here’s the one reason for hope – almost all Americans are disgusted by what’s happened to the universities.

JOHN LEO: You mean the micro-aggression, the trigger warnings and the censorship?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. The craziness on campus. Almost everybody says, you know, shut up, grow up, stop complaining. And this is even true for people on the left.  And so, there’s a gigantic market of parents who don’t want to send their kids to Yale and Brown and Amherst, and they want to send them someplace where they won’t be coddled.  And so my hope is that if there are some prestigious alternatives where their kids actually could learn how to survive hearing things they don’t like, and that market forces will lead a stampede to less coddling schools.

JOHN LEO: But what about the craving for elite credentials, no matter how bad the school really is. A lot of parents will send their kids anywhere, to the mouth of hell, if they can get a Yale degree.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. Well, look, Chicago’s pretty darn good. Chicago’s a very prestigious school. I don’t know what Ivy could join them. …

JOHN LEO: Well, Columbia still has the Great Books course.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Columbia is very PC. Columbia’s not, going to be it. So, another reason for hope is that more and more progressive professors and presidents are being attacked. And each time they’re attacked, they usually feel quite bitter. And at some point we’re going to get a college president who has been attacked in this way who sticks his or her neck out and says, enough is enough; I’m standing up to this. I also hope and expect that alumni will begin resisting. That’s something we’re going to do at “Heterodox Academy.” We’re going to try to organize alumni and trustees.

Because the presidents can’t stand up to the protesters unless there is extraordinary pressure on them from the other side.


JOHN LEO: Well, but there’s always a possibility of truth and accuracy. I mean, why is the professoriate so…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Spineless? Nowadays, a mob can coalesce out of nowhere. And so we’re more afraid of our students than we are of our peers. It is still possible for professors to say what they think over lunch; in private conversations they can talk. But the list of things we can say in the classroom is growing shorter and shorter.

JOHN LEO: This sounds like the Good Germans.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Exactly. It is. It’s really scary that values other than truth have become sacred.  And what I keep trying to say – this comes right out of my book The Righteous Mind – is that you can’t have two sacred values.  Because what do you do when they conflict?  And in the academy now, if truth conflicts with social justice, truth gets thrown under the bus.

Read the whole thing. [1]It has far more great material than I can possibly excerpt here. And while you’re at it, check out and bookmark the website Heterodox Academy [2], where Haidt and his band of academic rebels — many of them fellow liberals who are disgusted with the lies and bullying on campus — are fighting the good fight, every single day.

Here’s an example of what you can find through Heterodox Academy: this incredible interview with Marc Edwards [3], the Virginia Tech civil engineering professor who broke the Flint polluted water scandal wide open. In the interview, Edwards blames, in part, academic scientists for being so corrupt that they avert their eyes to scientific conclusions that lead them to places that might put their funding into jeopardy. That is, the scientists believed state and federal agencies, when the scientific data ought to have made them skeptical. Excerpt:

Q. Now, of course, when you walk around Flint and ask people about the reassurances they’re hearing now, they don’t believe anybody. When is it appropriate for academics to be skeptical of an official narrative when that narrative is coming from scientific authorities? Surely the answer can’t be “all of the time.”

A. I’m really surprised how emotional this interview is making me, and I’ve given several hundred interviews. What these agencies did in [the Washington, D.C., case [4]] was the most fundamental betrayal of public trust that I’ve ever seen. When I realized what they had done, as a scientist, I was just outraged and appalled.

I grew up worshiping at the altar of science, and in my wildest dreams I never thought scientists would behave this way. The only way I can construct a worldview that accommodates this is to say, These people are unscientific. Science should be about pursuing the truth and helping people. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you really ought to question your motives.

Unfortunately, in general, academic research and scientists in this country are no longer deserving of the public trust. We’re not.

Q. I think of that rock with the spray paint on it that says, “You want our trust??? We want Va Tech!!!” That’s a vote of confidence in you at the expense of confidence in anybody else. Is that a happy piece of graffiti in your eyes?

A. It’s a symbol of the total failure of our government science agencies, and also of our academic institutions. I really derive no personal satisfaction from that. I feel shame. That’s what I feel.

This is a particular instance of a broader point that the Heterodox Academicians hammer home every day: that academic institutions are also corrupted by politically correct fear, and a concomitant desire either to fix the data around the ideologically preferable conclusions, or to ignore research, or areas of research, that undermine those conclusions.

63 Comments (Open | Close)

63 Comments To "The Rot In The Academy"

#1 Comment By Hauptmann On February 9, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

Or for an example of useful falsehood, how about Newtonian physics? It’s view of a world of bodies with definite positions and momenta acted upon instantaneously by forces in absolute time has been superseded both by quantum uncertainty and interactions and by Einsteinian relative, curved spacetime. And yet, schools still teach Newtonian physics first, and engineers still almost always use it, and formulas derived from it, in their work. Why? Because, though Newtonian physics may not be capital-t True, it is useful.

#2 Comment By PomoProf On February 9, 2016 @ 5:00 pm


Good to see that someone else here has read Durkheim. But then you speak of Popperian falsificationism, and elide its utter opposition to the Kuhnian view you also mention. And you fail to note Feyerabend, who showed that actual scientists don’t follow the normative “rules” set down by those thinkers, and that both Kuhnian revolutions and Popperian falsification would have, if truly practiced, impeded actual progress, recommending instead “scientific pluralism”. Further, there is the element of social construction in science, as explored by Latour and others, wherein the the truth or falsity of a scientific claim is found within social appeals and practices, and the the “real world” of the scientists is created by social practice and theory; and also Harding and other proponents of feminist science, who illustrate some of the epistemic limits of the findings of (non-feminist) science in the imagery of power, rape, and abuse found in its rhetoric. In short, you missed the core debate in the philosophy of science over whether, in the formulation of Kourany:

1. Do the theories of science give a literally true account of the way the world is? Or are they mere calculating devise, useful fictions, convenient methods of representations, only empirically adequate but not true, or only true in some non-literal sense?

2. Under what conditions is it reasonable to accept a theory on a realistic interpretation (as literally true) rather than on an instrumentalist interpretation (as not literally true, but convenient for summarizing, systematizing, deducing, and so on a given body of information)?

3. Under what conditions is it reasonable to accept the entities postulated by a theory (and this includes processes, states, fields, and the like) as real existents rather than as mere hypothetical entities?

Ultimately, one must recognize that all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is produced by social interactions, deeply influenced by social prejudices, and therefore valid only in temporary, localized contexts.

[NFR: These are interesting posts, so I’m going to leave this here, but I think readers should know that you appear to be sock puppeting as “Hauptmann,” “PomoProf,” and “Reactron.” — RD]

#3 Comment By Rob G On February 9, 2016 @ 5:23 pm

“And this does not mean abandoning ideas of ethical progress or of domain-specific claims based in utility.”

But surely you see the flaw here? BY WHAT STANDARD do you define “ethical progress” and “utility?”

Never mind standards of measure. If there’s nothing solid, where do you stand to even take the measurements?

#4 Comment By grumpy realist On February 9, 2016 @ 6:42 pm

Eh. I suspect that if we were able to stop indulging the helicopter parents and their over-coddled kiddies, all of this mess would go away.

I predict that the self-indulgence of the SJWs will do a belly flop into oblivion the very first month on an actual job.

Either that, or when they get kicked into one of the STEM fields. Mama Nature doesn’t care about your feelings, and yes, Murphy’s Law does hold in reality.

#5 Comment By Carlo On February 9, 2016 @ 6:52 pm


“No, I’m serious. Do you understand the difference between terminal (or intrinsic) values and instrumental (or extrinsic) values.”

Yes, I translated a philosophy book (soon to be two) about (among other things)the fact that the reduction of truth to an instrumental value is an abomination that must necessarily lead to totalitarianism and social collapse.

The fact that you accept such redction because the Platonic position “has long been discarded by Continental philosophy” is beyond ridiculous! Why should anybody give a s**it about continental philosophers (pardon my French)?

#6 Comment By Carlo On February 9, 2016 @ 6:57 pm


“And yet, schools still teach Newtonian physics first, and engineers still almost always use it, and formulas derived from it, in their work. Why? Because, though Newtonian physics may not be capital-t True, it is useful.”

Oh, I teach university physics and let me tell you, that is unadulterated BS. We teach it also because it is beautiful, and because it helps us understand the universe, and because it is necessary in order to understand more precise theories.

But above all, you notion of “useful” is so vague and ideological to be again, ridiculous. Usefulness is necessarily defined by an order of ends, even when they are taken for granted.

#7 Comment By sps On February 9, 2016 @ 7:36 pm

“alumni matter”

Yes, lets use the rich folk with their Wall St. trust funds to reign in the college kids. That’ll keep them in line!

You have a situation where declining state support (on the public side at least) coincided with increased demand because post-industrialism and society demanded you go to college to get your credentials. And this demand came from a society, indeed a global society, that was far more diverse than ever before. So more administration was hired to handle all this. At the same time professors and university presidents asked why should football coaches have all the fun? and demanded more money for their (ahem) research services or they’ll go someplace who will pay them and tuition shot up which required more foreign students to make up the difference. More diversity, more diversity conflicts, especially from students who really don’t want poop swastikas on their dorm room doors to be the highlight of their college life.

That’s basically what’s going on campus in a nutshell, and if such conflicts do lead to the madness of segregated dining rooms in order to create “safe spaces” well, at least one hopes it will all straighten itself back to center. It certainly did after the 1960s after all.

#8 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On February 10, 2016 @ 7:10 am


Of course, some people are unhappy at being left behind by progress, like so many others in history; and like all those other groups, they will become ever more marginal, and ultimately disappear.

No, we’ll wait in a shady place besides the river while reading Homer, Plato, Tacitus, Seneca, Shakespeare and Dante, having pleasurable conversations and sipping wine, until you are destroyed, as your destiny is, by your own internal contradictions. Then we will raise our glasses in a melancholy toast to yet another worldly vanity passing over.

#9 Comment By Rob R On February 10, 2016 @ 7:45 am

Karl Popper’s theory was simple: absolute reality exists, and we can have knowledge of it, but that knowledge is always tentative. Through invention and falsification, that knowledge can improve over time. This has been the dominant picture of how science works for almost 80 years, but it is not limited to science. It is a universal model of knowledge.

The postmoderns have no argument against this view, because it preempts all their criticisms of Enlightenment science – Popper didn’t believe in certainty or neutrality, either – while giving a real explanation for the progress of science. The postmodern claim that science has advanced by oppressing opposing views is, like all postmodern claims, nothing but conspiracy theory. I have only ever seen them deal with Popper by either ignoring him, or clearly misunderstanding him.

It’s no use pointing all this out to them, though, because, if you reject the notion of truth, what do does it matter? In Popperian language, the claims promoted by PomoProf and Hauptmann are unfalsifiable, and thus explain nothing.

#10 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 10, 2016 @ 10:18 am

Hauptmann, I know Carlo’s credentials and trust his statements about science. He represents what I know about science, in that as a layman I depend on his greater understanding of science… and because it makes sense.

It is not just useful, it is practical.

Correct me where I’m wrong request…

Science can be reduced to utility, in the sense that it requires falsifiability. It asserts that whatever explanation on which it depends today — it being the most useful — it stand prepared to change that explanation tomorrow for the objective requirements of truth.

A better example than physics, I suggest, is geology. The prevailing theory is plate tectonics. It’s based on the observable data, and when it was first proposed in the form of continental drift, it was roundly and enthusiastically ridiculed. It reduced the previous theories’ utility to zero, but not before a period of intense denial.

The flaw in your analogies and analysis is close to the post hoc fallacy. That utility can be a valid measurement doesn’t mean it can be the primary (let alone only) measurement.

#11 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 10, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

“And in the academy now, if truth conflicts with social justice, truth gets thrown under the bus.”

In business and politics too. But there should be quotes around “social justice” not as a scare, but because it’s a phoney euphemism for squelching principled dissent, just like “peoples’ democratic republic” was.

#12 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 10, 2016 @ 12:58 pm

“More diversity, more diversity conflicts, especially from students who really don’t want poop swastikas on their dorm room doors to be the highlight of their college life.”

There’s no doubt that was a pretext and provocation by one of the SJW’s. No real nazi would deface their own sacred symbol with excrement. Not even clever by half, but it doesn’t seem too hard to play the half-witted.

#13 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 10, 2016 @ 9:50 pm

naturalmom: You will be most welcome should you and your daughter come to this area. It will be my pleasure to offer both of you my personal views on life here.